Are the 7-2 Buffalo Bills as good as their record would indicate?
That would be no, according to Neil Pane of the sports analytics site FiveThirtyEight.com. Pane contends the Bills have been one of the luckiest teams this season, significantly outperforming their Pythagorean win expectation.
The Pythagorean model projects a team’s expected win total based on their point differential. FiveThirtyEight’s projections indicate the 8-0 Pittsburgh Steelers to be “historically lucky” this season, though the Bills (4.7 expected wins) aren’t far behind. In fact, only eight teams in NFL history have outperformed their Pythagorean expectation by a larger margin than Buffalo through nine games.
The Steelers have, so far, outscored opponents 235-161, which is more indicative of a 6-2 or 5-3 team than their unblemished 8-0 mark at the season’s halfway juncture.
Per FiveThirtyEight, the difference between the Steelers’ actual win total and their Pythagorean expectation (5.7 wins) is the fourth-largest disparity among the 31 NFL teams to start 8-0 since 1960. The only “luckier” 8-0 teams in that span have been the 2006 Indianapolis Colts (5.3 expected wins), the 2015 Carolina Panthers (5.5) and the 1990 San Francisco 49ers (5.6). Two of those teams (Carolina and Indianapolis) reached the Super Bowl, so maybe there’s something to be said for catching a favorable bounce or two.
As they say, it’s better to be lucky than good.
While framing the Bills and Steelers as imposters pulling the wool over our eyes would be an overreaction, their pedestrian point differentials (+74 for Pittsburgh compared to an even bleaker +9 for Buffalo) certainly paint a much different picture than their glowing win/loss records.
On the other end of that spectrum, the Los Angeles Chargers, Jacksonville Jaguars and Atlanta Falcons have experienced the opposite phenomenon with all three drastically underperforming their Pythagorean expectations. Masters of the fourth-quarter collapse, the embattled Chargers have been the unluckiest of the bunch, coming in well below their expected win total (3.8). Los Angeles (-11 point differential) has essentially been a .500 team on paper, but, in typical Chargers fashion, they have just two wins to show for it.
We’ll see what the Bills are really made of down the stretch with upcoming matchups against a slew of difficult opponents including the Arizona Cardinals, 49ers, Steelers and Miami Dolphins.